|One hundred nine planes on Runway 7 at Rockford, engines roaring, pilots eager for the flagman’s wave.
PHOTO BY BRADY LANE
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Maybe it took their absence last year, wrought by the Deluge of ’10, to remind us what a thing of beauty, of passion, commitment, and sheer logistical ingenuity their annual group arrivals represent to AirVenture.
But when the 22nd edition of Bonanzas to Oshkosh landed Saturday, followed by the Mooney Caravan and Cessnas to Oshkosh, the excitement of their migrations came home.
The 109 Bonanzas in the formation flight ranged from a 1947—the year of the Model 35’s introduction—to a trio of factory-new G36 Bonanza Hawker Beechcraft pilots flew to go on display at the company’s stand.
Bob Siegfried II, last year’s unfulfilled lead pilot, got to head this year’s formation.
“It’s definitely worth the wait,” Siegfried said, moments after he and wife Jessie stepped out of their S35 to a welcome from EAA President/CEO Rod Hightower.
“I was beginning to think I was a little bit of a jinx the way the weather was this morning,” he added.
His wingmen were his father, longtime EAA stalwart “Old” Bob Siegfried flying a V35B, and brother Rick in a J35.
Billed as “the world’s largest formation of aircraft,” B2Osh—as it’s colloquially known—featured a first this year: an all-women element—or row of aircraft—who call themselves “The Beech Babes.”
The three—element leader Mary Jane Butt of Cresson, Texas (’57 H35 model), Shana Nussbaum of Grass Valley, California (’61 N35 model), and Vera Martinovich of Lake Stevens, Washington (’69 E33C) —were all veterans of prior B2Osh journeys.
“The women fly better,” Nussbaum said when asked why the three decided to fly together. “Your element is nice and tight.”
Many in the Bonanza group participate every year, but every year brings newcomers, like Bill Stanek of Industry, Maine, who flew his 1981 F33A.
“I tried to come last year and made it to Rockford, but we turned around and went home after the rainout,” Stanek said. “So I was bound and determined it was going to happen this year.
“It’s like the pilgrimage for pilots.”
Indeed, B2Osh participants hail from all corners of the country. All must attend formation clinics to qualify for the group flight.
“The main thing is safety,” said longtime participant Kevin O’Halloran of Cordell, Oklahoma, who arrived early to prepare a welcome party he hosts for the group. “There are people who undergo the training, but we have to tell them, ‘You’re not up to mustard.’ Is it worse to risk hurting someone’s feelings, or risk their lives?”
The planes gather in Rockford, Illinois, for a day of preparations and social activities before taking off for Oshkosh, flying at an altitude of 2,500 feet and a 140-knot true airspeed. Participants camp together, and by the time the last of the Bonanzas taxied into their traditional camping area in the North 40, some 20 minutes after the first arrival, tents were already going up.
All told, the Bonanzas, parked in rows 519-525 in the North 40, brought about 240 adults and 50 youngsters, half of them small children, to Oshkosh, according to Larry Gaines, B2Osh’s Main Fellow Who’s In Charge (MFWIC).
And despite last year’s soggy conditions, remnants of the group did finally arrive at AirVenture, many by bus, and camped in their usual spot—without their airplanes but with unexpected results.
“The tents were closer together, the kids were more involved, people could play with balls because they didn’t have to worry about hitting airplanes, and last year our camaraderie was at an all-time high,” said Gaines.
“And this year, from what I’ve seen so far, I think we’re exceeding that.”